HONOLULU—Emergency responders from the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force, Royal Australian Navy, and Federated States of Micronesia rescued three stranded mariners from the island of Pikelot in Yap last Monday.
The mariners, missing since July 29, are now being transported back to their home on Pulap, Chuuk, by the FSS Independence. There are no reports of injuries. The cause of the stranding is unknown at this time.
Capt. Christopher Chase, commander, Coast Guard Sector Guam, attributed the success of the search-and-rescue efforts to partnerships. “Through coordination with multiple response organizations, we were able to save three members of our community and bring them back home to their families,” he said. “This case highlights the importance of having a plan, and making sure your family knows when you are expected to return. Timely activation of the Search and Rescue System by the mariners’ families allowed us to quickly respond with surface and aviation resources. We greatly appreciate the support of the Air Force, Royal Australian Navy, and FSM.”
At 12:38am, July 31, Joint Rescue Sub-Center Guam watchstanders received a report from a local resident who relayed the report that a 23-foot white and blue skiff with three mariners aboard was overdue while transiting from Puluwat Atoll to Pulap Island, Chuuk, a 21-mile voyage, on July 29.
JRSC Guam watchstanders spoke with the Chuuk State Search and Rescue Liaison and confirmed the report while also contacting the commander of the FSM National Police Maritime Wing.
The JRSC watchstanders issued a SafetyNet (distress) broadcast notice to mariners, deployed an Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules Aircrew from Hawaii, and began querying possible volunteer commercial Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System vessels and partners in the area to assist with the search.
Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu personnel assisted JRSC Guam with the coordination of partner agencies assets throughout the case.
The Air Force 506th Air Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron from Andersen Air Force Base was contacted and deployed KC-135 Stratotanker crews to search the area.
The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Canberra was also in the region and agreed to divert and provide search sorties with embarked helicopters while the FSS Independence departed from Yap to assist.
At 3:09pm, Aug. 1, one of the Air Force KC-135 crews was completing the final leg of their search pattern for the day when they located the stranded mariners on Pikelot Island.
“We were toward the end of our search pattern, we turned to avoid some rainshowers and that’s when we looked down and saw an island, so we decided to check it out and that’s when we saw S.O.S and a boat right next to it on the beach,” said Lt. Col. Jason Palmeira-Yen, the KC-135 pilot. “From there we called in HMAS Canberra because they had two helicopters nearby that could assist and land on the island.”
After discussions between the responding partners, it was decided the safest course of action for both the response agencies’ crews and the mariners was to limit exposure to one another due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A helicopter crew from HMAS Canberra delivered supplies to the stranded mariners while the Coast Guard Hercules crew airdropped a radio and message block informing them the FSS Independence was en route to rescue and return them home.
At 1am, Aug.t 3, the Independence arrived on scene, launched a small boat crew and rescued the mariners. (USCG)